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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

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From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Filtering by Category: Writing Career

10 Reasons Every Fiction Writer Should Learn Technical Writing

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

If you write fiction, you might be cringing at the words technical writing, but hear me out. Though fiction and technical pieces are very different and require unique skills, they also have a remarkable amount of overlap. I’ve been writing fiction most of my life, but I’ve spent much of my career working as a technical writer. I’ve worked on brochures, manuals, newslettersyou name it. It sounds pretty drab, but there’s something beautiful to me about meticulously crafting words into an artistic yet technical document. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it. So why am I insisting fiction writers learn it?

1. You'll learn to write concisely. Yes, fiction writing is an art and a creative process. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a method to it. By learning to write concisely, one of the main skills of technical writing, you can learn to get your point across quickly and efficiently without filling your story with a bunch of fluff. Too much fluff, and your readers will be removed from the story and might be less likely to continue reading. Just look at all the books out there about the craft of writing fiction. If there was no method, there’d be no reason for those books.

2. You'll get better at line editing. Technical writing focuses a lot on taking apart sentences and reconstructing them, especially since you often have a limited amount of space to fit the text. That knowledge will easily translate to line editing, where you’ll focus on the flow and wording of a sentence to make sure it doesn’t break from the style of the narrative; you’ll also learn to pick up on redundancies.

3. You'll improve the structure of your plot. Good technical writers are masters at structuring the content of their work in a way that will both inform and propel a reader through it. By learning that skill, you’ll gain critical insight as to what works in a story and what doesn’t. You’ll be able to better see if a scene is inappropriately placed or if it needs to be cut altogether.

4. You'll get a taste for another genre and develop experience and skills while doing so. For those who have dabbled in tech writing or have perused manuals and instruction booklets, you know that technical writing is a whole different beast from writing fiction. (That’s also part of the reason there are so many poorly written manuals.) Well-written manuals include only the essentials. They have one job: to give the reader knowledge about a particular product and to do so efficiently. They don’t—or at least shouldn’t—be wishy-washy and open to interpretation. Gaining experience in tech writing will help you establish a clear path for your story and give it a purpose. One of the biggest indicators of amateur writing is ambiguity. Tech writing skills can help you avoid that.

5. You'll gain a better understanding of which questions to ask and how to find the best editor/agent for your manuscript. One of the main tasks a technical writer undergoes is to research and ask questions. Loads of them. Tech writers are jacks of all trades; they acquire knowledge about many different subjects, and if they’re writing a piece on a subject they’re unfamiliar with, they are expected to track down those who do, interview them, then translate that knowledge into words the average Joe can understand. Having the skill to do so gives you a huge advantage as a fiction writer. It gives you the ability to know how to approach potential editors, agents, and publishers and CONNECT with them—a must in the publishing industry. It can also help you gain efficiency with your research.

6. You'll get a chance to dip your toes in graphic design. It’s true that you can hire a professional to design your book cover (which I highly recommend in most cases), but becoming familiar with the basics of graphic design can be very beneficial to you as an author. Apart from your cover, you’ll have to consider all the graphics you’ll need for marketing your book. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve published traditionally or independently; either way, you’ll be responsible for most of the marketing. If you’re a self-published author, having the skills to market your work will make or break your success. So how does tech writing play into this? As a technical writer, you learn the aesthetics of font and layout. You'll learn what draws readers’ attention, how to make focal points on a page, and how to create text-based designs in a limited amount of space. Take a look at any billboard or graphic on top social media profiles, and you'll see how quickly placement of text affects your perception of a brand.

7. You'll learn how to analyze your manuscript and take a critical approach with it. Since technical writing is all about writing, rewriting, and assessing your own work, the experience you’ll gain from learning the techniques involved can be invaluable when it comes to editing your fiction. Getting the first draft done is an awesome first step, but being able to see the bigger picture and reevaluate your work is crucial to its growth. I’ve read plenty of books that were published “as is” because the author didn’t want to change it, and I’ve read books that have been through hundreds of revisions because the first twenty times weren’t quite right. Believe me, I’ll take a thoroughly edited book over the others any day, and I’m betting you would too.

8. You'll acquire more marketing skills. In additional to the marketing benefits you get from studying graphic design, you can pick up even more through learning to write for a target audience. In a technical piece, it’s vital to first know your audience and then cater that piece to fit your audience. And while most of us fantasize about readers appreciating the artistic beauty in our books and the sometimes-flowery language within, the truth is, superfluous wording doesn’t sell 90% of the time. The ideas behind your book might be genius, but if the writing isn’t well executed and you can’t market it well, you’re still sunk.

9. You'll learn how to view your manuscript as a beta reader. Technical writing is all about trial and error. You write the document, test it to see how well it captures the use of a product, then revise it. You’ll likely have others reviewing it as well. Beta readers will do the same thing for your story. They’ll tell you what worked for them and what didn’t and what other readers might find confusing. Working in the technical writing industry can give you a better feel for that process, and it’ll teach you to view your own work through the eyes of a beta reader.

10. You'll get more experience with research. Tech writing is all about research. Like I mentioned before, most documents written in the tech industry are manuals, brochures, and articles explaining how something works. And since most of us don’t have extensive knowledge in science, math, engineering, medicine, etc., a lot of research is often required. Familiarizing yourself with the various methods of research and knowing how to apply what you find will have a tremendous effect on your ability to incorporate outside information into your novel. You’ll become well versed at weaving in facts and making them flow with the rest of the manuscript.

Building Your Career As an Author

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Establishing an online presence isn't just preferred if you want to be a successful writer; it's absolutely necessary. As the primary form of marketing, it's important to make yourself and your work known long before you get your first agent and contract. Publishers want authors that stand out from the rest: ones who not only have good writing skills but are marketable as well. And while the traditional forms of marketing and publication still lie with the publishers and agencies, it's up to the author to connect with others outside of the publication world and establish a name for themselves.

Smwright has an awesome post regarding the subject that I strongly encourage aspiring authors to check out:
http://smwright.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/the-business-of-writing-part-ii/

It talks about ways in which you can further your online presence and the key factors in doing so, including a website, professional email address, and various social media sites.

The biggest part of selling your work is to first market yourself!

4 Key Tips for Aspiring Writers

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Becoming a well-known author is a common dream for most aspiring writers. The desire to write is part of who we are, and we often strive to make a living at it. But becoming a professional author isn't easy; it difficult to get your foot in the door, and it's even harder to keep producing top-notch books on a regular basis once you're in. After all, it's extraordinarily rare to write a best-selling book that makes you millions, forcing the majority of writers to also have day jobs. So how does one achieve the status of a professional?

1. Treat writing as your career, not just a hobby. If you want to be an author full-time, you have to commit yourself to it. That means forcing yourself to sit down and write every day no matter what. You also have to push yourself and strive to make your work the best it can be.

2. Get feedback from a professional. While many of your friends and family can give you valuable input as readers, they likely won't know the ins and outs of the publishing world or much in the way of professional editing. The feedback you will receive from a good editor can give you an idea of whether your writing is publication ready. It can also help you establish the things you're good at, and what you need to work on. Attending writing workshops is also a great way to improve your skills.

3. Don't rush the publication process. While you definitely want to make an effort to get your work out there and establish a name for yourself, make sure your writing is the best it can be before you do so. The best books take planning and many, many rounds of edits.

4. Build your reputation. Run a regular writing blog and meet other writers. Create a Twitter account and other social media dedicated to your writing. Let people see your skills as a writer—but take precautions to protect your rights to your work. Basically, you need to connect with others and showcase your talent. That's probably one of the most challenging things about being a writer, because most of us aren't born salespeople. But the more you can establish a name for yourself, the more interested people will become in your writing. And don't be discouraged if it takes a while to get response; for many writers, it takes years to build up their reputation.

Being a professional author takes a lifetime of commitment and hard work, as well as self-discipline. It's a long road to travel for most of us, but one worth taking. The most successful authors are the ones who spend their whole lives writing and continue to do so simply because they have a passion for it.


For more tips on becoming a professional author, check out this awesome blog post by Larry Correia: http://bit.ly/12Lz2Po.

Caution: NOT all publishers are created equal!

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

The publishing industry has changed tremendously in the past decade or two, not to mention the last century. What used to be primarily a publishers-seeking-authors market where only the best got published has been lost to the generation of advanced technology, self-marketing via Internet media outlets, and cyber scams. Now, that's not to say that scamming didn't happen in the past; it certainly did. And technology has brought about a wonderful space for amateur writers (and other types of artists) to spread their wings and share their talents with the world. But what I feel is the core of the publishing world that was first created has long been thrown to the sharks. We live in an age where anyone can get published, no matter how much or how little talent there is, and who you know is more important than what you can do. I suppose who you know has always been important, but these days, it takes precedent over skills, which is quite a sad thing in my book. Yes, there are still traditional publishers out there, but the chances of being accepted with one of the big fish are generally one in a million. All that being said, you really need to be careful when searching for a publisher these days. Publishers know that new writers are trying to get published all the time, and many take advantage of that. They will try to win you over, then take your money, and leave you high and dry. But no two publishers are created equal. So for that reason, I'd like to take a brief insight into a few types of publication there are available, and which ones new writers in particular should avoid.

Self-publishing. Since this is the route that many new writers are forced to end up taking, I will start with this one. Self-publishing has its perks of course; you control what gets published and when, you don't have to sit around waiting to hear if you've been accepted or not by some well-known publisher that you hope will take you under their wings and show you the ways of the publishing world. And you don't have to worry about getting an agent or fight with an editor about how a sentence should be worded. You also retain all the rights to your book. The downside? You have to pay for everything yourself, you have to do your own marketing, you have to hire your own editor (if you don't want to hear the never-ending critique from your readers, that is; of course, that's up to you), and on top of all of that, your book will usually only be available in limited places (Amazon and the like) unless you happen to get lucky enough to sell enough copies to get picked up by a big name publisher. However, you know that and expect of those conditions up front.

So what's my recommendation on this route? Well, if you've exhausted other means of getting published without blowing a ton of money, and you have the extra monetary resources to do so, I actually think self-publishing can be a decent way to go, especially for authors just starting out. You can get your work out there and let others discover you when you might not otherwise get the chance. However, as I said, you should at least hire an editor for your piece, before you ever consider getting it published. Good editors won't just fix grammatical errors; they will tell you what they think could be added into your piece or taken away, how wording suggestions could help sculpt your book into a more refined and professional document. They're really worth investing in if you have the time and money.

Another person you might want to consider consulting if you decided to take this route is a marketing person or agent. They can help you increase the sales of your book, and they can give you tips on what publishers might pick up your book if it does well enough. However, an agent isn't necessary for this route, and many self-publishing authors choose to create their own marketing documents, which is fine.

Publish-on-demand or vanity publishing. Out of all the ways to go, this is probably the worst. While you do retain all or most rights to your book, and the publisher will often even accept your book for publication at no cost, they generate the initial loss in revenue by getting the author to buy their own book. Some key signs that a company is a vanity publisher: they offer to completely bypass the editing process to get your book out there faster, notify you that you will have to do the majority of the marketing, and pay you in royalties based off of the sales generated in a given period of time (i.e. the more money and effort you spend on selling your book, the more money you will get in return, minus the chunk that you are giving to these guys). A vanity publisher will provide low-detail statements of the sales that were made during a period of time outlined in the contract, meaning that they only have to pay you for what they say actually sold.

When I was 19 and got my first book published, I opted to go with one of these publish-on-demand publishers. I was naive and thought I had done proper research on the matter, but I hadn't. Like so many thousands of people before me, I feel I was cheated out of some money. No, it probably wasn't all that much, considering it was a rather awful poetry book and I was inexperienced, but I have record of some purchases made that they would never verify. In the end, it wasn't worth the battle, and I only ever saw one or two paychecks, and that was during the first few months of my book being available.

Though it's rather obvious by now, I do not think highly of these types of companies, nor do I recommend this route for publishing. Many publishers will try to hide the words "publish on demand"  or "vanity publishing," because they realize that those words are not very reputable or well perceived. But the deal is all the same, no matter how they state it: The publishing company will publish your work, bombard you with special offers to buy more copies of your own book so that you can sell them yourself and do all the leg work, only stock it to online distributors so that there is minimal printing cost for them, and they only have to stock your book as long as it's selling. In the end, it's purely a win-win situation for them, and a loss for the author. You get nothing out of publication this way, except to have your name floating around in cyberspace in my experience.

Subsidy publishing. Though not very common from what I can tell, subsidy publishing is another route similar to vanity publishing, with a few differences. Authors will retain only particular rights to their work, as detailed in the contract made with the publisher, though they will retain ownership of their work. And like vanity publishing, they will generally fund the majority of the marketing costs involved and handle most of the sales. However, unlike vanity publishing, the author agrees to take on a set amount of the cost up front. The publisher handles all facets of production and shoulders the cost for it. They fund the advertising and promotions for public awareness of the product. The author then takes it from there. Similar to vanity publishing, there is no royalty advance, so authors are paid by the number of books sold.

If you choose to take a route other than traditional publishing or self-publishing, subsidy publishing isn't all that bad. There are of course some downsides to it (mostly monetary), but it's more of a partnership than vanity publishing for sure. Another upside is that while subsidy publishers accept more manuscripts than a traditional publisher, they are still picky enough that they won't accept just any manuscript; they want to be fairly confident that it will sell at least a reasonable amount of copies. Subsidy publishing is the most "middle ground" of all the various types of publishers.

Traditional publishing or commercial publishing. Traditional publishing is by far the hardest to get into. Your work doesn't just have to be good; it has to be entertaining, well-written, and above all, marketable. If you don't make the first few pages captivating, your book will be tossed aside along with thousands of others. Few are accepted by these types of publishers, but those that are usually make a respectable career out of writing.

The biggest upside to this type of publishing is the monetary rewards. The author typically receives a royalty advance for the projected future sales of the book. The publisher handles everything: production, sales, promotion, and funds. There is absolutely no cost to the author. The publisher does buy the rights to the book in order to do this, but they are generally considered the most reputable type of publisher, because they only make what they sell. They are responsible for, in my opinion, everything that the publisher should be responsible for. If you're good enough to hit it big with one of these guys, you're golden.

I hope my insight to the publishing world has been helpful for those with unfamiliar with the industry. I wish all of you out there trying to get published the best of luck, and I hope that you will find the path that works best for you.

As additional source on the types of publishing, I'd like to recommend http://www.brightonpublishing.com/Pubtypes.html. The site has additional details on each type, including the typical royalty rates.